Remembering Ting-Wa Wong, MD’57, PhD’68

by John Easton

Ting-Wa Wong, MD’57, PhD’68, faculty member in the Department of Pathology and the College, died at the age of 86 on Fri., Jan. 4, at the University of Chicago Medicine.

Dr. Wong was a highly respected member of our faculty who was honored year after year by the Pritzker School of Medicine students for her superb teaching. They appreciated and valued the clarity and precision with which she could explain even the most complicated medical concepts.

She had a vast knowledge of pathology, pathophysiology and human disease and an uncommon ability to convey that knowledge into basic understandable concepts. “Her lectures went far beyond pathology,” according to one fourth-year medical student. “She honed in on the most basic pathophysiologic processes at play and then used that foundation to explain an entire disease process.”

Another student described how selflessly Dr. Wong devoted her time to educating second-year medical students. She would spend her evening hours with them, reviewing pathology slides and clarifying challenging pathophysiologic concepts. It was clear how invested she was in their education and how meticulously she had considered the best way to present the material.

Ting-Wa Wong was born Oct. 15, 1932. She grew up in Hong Kong but came to the United States for college, enrolling the City College of San Francisco in 1949. In 1950, she transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, where she was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Scholastic Honor Society in her junior year. She graduated with honors, at age 20, in 1953.

Dr. Wong entered the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine in the fall of 1953 and graduated, again with honors, in 1957. She completed an internship at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, at Washington University in St. Louis, followed by a pathology residency at the University of Chicago.

She remained here for the rest of her career. She was a pathology instructor at the University of Chicago from 1961 to 1964. From 1964 to 1968 she completed a PhD in organic chemistry at the University. She re-joined the faculty as an assistant professor in 1968 and was promoted to associate professor in 1973.

Dr. Wong was devoted to teaching medical students in their pre-clinical years. She was course coordinator of General and Cellular Pathology for nearly a decade, and continued to participate as a faculty member in the course. 

Her major interest, however, was teaching the Clinical Pathophysiology course, which she began in 1990. This all-consuming course is known for its carefully organized lectures and handouts and is one of the highlights of the Pritzker curriculum.  She also initiated and directed an accelerated summer histology course that helped MSTP students begin their PhD research much earlier. 

Dr. Wong received numerous awards for her teaching, including election to the AOA Honor Medical Society. She received the Humanism and Excellence in Pre-Clinical Teaching Award, the Basic Science Teaching Award (at last count five times), the Distinguished Basic Science Teaching Award (at least four times), and the graduating seniors’ Favorite Faculty Award—more than 25 times.

She was elected three times to Who's Who among America's Teachers. In 2006, she was named one of six inaugural members of the University of Chicago Academy of Distinguished Medical Educators. And she has an award in her own name. The Ting-Wa Wong, MD, PhD Scholarship is bestowed each year on a student who has demonstrated strong performance and achievement in pathology.

Ting-Wa Wong was also a pioneer in advancing the role of women in medicine, someone who had gone to medical school and started practicing at a time when there were few female role models for medical students. She knew how to attract good students to the field. She developed a popular course for non-biology majors in the College on the origins of cancer. This course inspired several non-biology students to switch from social sciences or the humanities to premedical studies. Many of them were subsequently accepted to medical school, including Pritzker. These students credit her teaching for having re-directed their life-long career paths.